Bell Canyon & Finishing the Little Wildhorse Canyon Loop

Cliffs in Bell Canyon, San Rafael Swell, Utah
Cliffs in Bell Canyon

I wrote in another post about ascending Little Wildhorse Canyon in Utah’s San Rafael Swell.  It’s a great canyon experience, with dryfalls, sculpted walls, rock formations, and more to explore.  Most people (myself included) opt to do the hike as a loop, descending via Bell Canyon.  Besides all the benefits of a loop, the hike between the two canyons is quite scenic, and Bell is definitely easier than Little Wildhorse, so it’s a loop worth doing!

Quick Stats

Round Trip Length: 10 or 6 miles Trail Type: Lollipop loop or Out & Back Elevation Gain: 755ft. Pets: Leashed Fees: None

Sculpted walls in Bell Canyon, San Rafael Swell, Utah
Sculpted walls in Bell Canyon

From where Little Wildhorse Wash crosses Behind the Reef Road, you want to turn left on the road.  There is a sign kiosk here as well as a small sign pointing left toward Bell Canyon, so it’s easy to find.

Sign and kiosk at the junction of Little Wildhorse Canyon and Behind the Reef Road, San Rafael Swell, Utah
Sign and kiosk at the junction of Little Wildhorse Canyon and Behind the Reef Road

The road is definitely used, so be wary of vehicles.  But at least when I visited on a weekday in early November, it wasn’t busy.  (I’d imagine Spring Break would be worse.)  One of the first things you’ll notice (even though it’s the other direction down the road) is an impressive formation known as Queen Hatshepsut, named for a famous queen of Egypt. (She was nicknamed “His Majesty, Herself” and is considered Egypt’s only successful female pharaoh (Cleopatra doesn’t count?).)

Queen Hatshepsut formation along Behind the Reef Road, San Rafael Swell, Utah
Queen Hatshepsut formation

But back to walking in the correct direction down the road, the route starts out quite pleasantly, with cliffs ahead and Queen Hatshepsut behind.  The views continue to be quite scenic as the road climbs to a high point and then steeply descends (one more reason not to do this hike in the opposite direction – the hike up the road would be pretty brutal, especially on a warm day).  Views down into the upper reaches of Bell Canyon are especially nice.

Views down into Bell Canyon above where the trail travels, Behind the Reef Road, San Rafael Swell, Utah
Views down into Bell Canyon above where the trail travels

The route finally drops down into Bell Canyon Wash about mile 7.  A tenth of a mile later, the trail leaves the road when the road climbs out of the wash to continue its trek behind the San Rafael Reef.

The point where Behind the Reef Road turns right out of Bell Canyon Wash.  You want to continue down the wash.  San Rafael Swell, Utah
The point where the road turns right out of Bell Canyon Wash. You want to continue down the wash.

Almost immediately after this, you’ll enter the cool shadows of Bell Canyon.  There are some nice rocks, cliffs, and sculptured walls; however, the route is never terribly narrow. There are a few small dryfalls to scramble, but nothing on the scale of Little Wildhorse Canyon.

Hiking down Bell Canyon, San Rafael Swell, Utah
Hiking down Bell Canyon

About mile 7.7, the route encounters a dryfall and then eventually enters narrows, which end about mile 9.3.

Narrows in Bell Canyon, San Rafael Swell, Utah
Narrows in Bell Canyon

The canyon widens after this, and before I was expecting it – only about a tenth of a mile below the narrows – Bell Canyon suddenly empties into Little Wildhorse Canyon at the junction just above the dryfall bypass.

Walking out of the Bell Canyon narrows, San Rafael Swell, Utah
Walking out of the narrows

Continue downcanyon, over the bypass, and back to the parking lot for a great 10-mile hike!

Looking down Little Wildhorse Canyon from the bypass, San Rafael Swell, Utah
Looking down Little Wildhorse Canyon from the bypass

Round Trip Trail Length: 10.0 miles as the loop with Little Wildhorse Canyon; if you wanted to do Bell Canyon as an out & back, it would be about 6 miles

Elevation Gain: 755ft. (4,955ft. to 5,674ft.) (Note that my GPX file thinks it’s quite a bit more elevation gain due to losing signal a few times in the narrow canyons.)

Facilities: Primitive restrooms at the Little Wildhorse Trailhead

Fees: None at this point.  However, they seem to be instituting fees and shifting land ownership between federal/state in various places in the immediate area; I’m hopeful that this will stay free for the foreseeable future.

Beginning up the Behind the Reef Road from Little Wildhorse Canyon, San Rafael Swell, Utah
Beginning up the Behind the Reef Road

Trail Notes: There’s no question that Bell Canyon is not quite as scenic as Little Wildhorse Canyon.  There’s also little doubt that both canyons are nicer hiking upcanyon than downcanyon!  So I definitely recommend going up Little Wildhorse and down Bell, though if you prefer descending dryfalls, you should do the loop in the other direction.  The rocks tend to radiate chill; this is great in the summer and not so awesome when it’s freezing outside!  Remember to never, ever enter a slot canyon if there is rain in the forecast anywhere in the vicinity.

Looking back at Queen Hapshetsut from Behind the Reef Road between Little Wildhorse Canyon and Bell Canyon, San Rafael Swell, Utah
Looking back at Queen Hapshetsut

Trail ★★☆☆☆

Road ★★★★☆

Signs ★★★★☆

Scenery ★★★★☆

Would I go 100 miles out of my way for this? ★★★☆☆

Overall Rating: ★★★½☆

Continuing up the Behind the Reef Road between Little Wildhorse Canyon and Bell Canyon, San Rafael Swell, Utah
Continuing up the road

GPS Coordinates for Little Wildhorse Canyon

TH: 38.5830480°, -110.8028690° (38°34.98288′, -110°48.17214′ / 38°34’58.9728″, -110°48’10.3284″) (4,964ft.)

Enter wash: 38.5845580°, -110.8037910° (38°35.07348′, -110°48.22746′ / 38°35’04.4088″, -110°48’13.6476″) (4,964ft.) (0.12)

Puddle/scramble: 38.5886890°, -110.8058030° (38°35.32134′, -110°48.34818′ / 38°35’19.2804″, -110°48’20.8908″) (5,002ft.) (0.49)

Looking back along the Behind the Reef Road between Little Wildhorse Canyon and Bell Canyon, San Rafael Swell, Utah
Looking back along the Behind the Reef Road

Bell Canyon Junction: 38.5889430°, -110.8065730° (38°35.33658′, -110°48.39438′ / 38°35’20.1948″, -110°48’23.6628″) (5,044ft.) (0.62)

Narrows: 38.5929090°, -110.8071390° (38°35.57454′, -110°48.42834′ / 38°35’34.4724″, -110°48’25.7004″) (5,066ft.) (1.09)

Exit Narrows: 38.5942730°, -110.8074200° (38°35.65638′, -110°48.44520′ / 38°35’39.3828″, -110°48’26.7120″) (5,076ft.) (1.29)

Swirling patterns in rocks in Bell Canyon, San Rafael Swell, Utah
Swirling patterns in rocks in Bell Canyon

Narrows: 38.5947110°, -110.8073040° (38°35.68266′, -110°48.43824′ / 38°35’40.9596″, -110°48’26.2944″) (5,075ft.) (1.36)

Exit Narrows: 38.5973760°, -110.8007060° (38°35.84256′, -110°48.04236′ / 38°35’50.5536″, -110°48’02.5416″) (5,287ft.) (2.51)

Narrows: 38.6028090°, -110.7986760° (38°36.16854′, -110°47.92056′ / 38°36’10.1124″, -110°47’55.2336″) (5,237ft.) (3.4)

Entering the narrows of Bell Canyon, San Rafael Swell, Utah
Entering the narrows of Bell Canyon

Dryfall: 38.6060750°, -110.7957200° (38°36.36450′, -110°47.74320′ / 38°36’21.8700″, -110°47’44.5920″) (5,349ft.) (3.99)

Wash Junction: 38.6116050°, -110.7950340° (38°36.69630′, -110°47.70204′ / 38°36’41.7780″, -110°47’42.1224″) (5,431ft.) (4.87)

Behind the Reef Road: 38.6154130°, -110.8027650° (38°36.92478′, -110°48.16590′ / 38°36’55.4868″, -110°48’09.9540″) (5,503ft.) (5.48)

Narrows in Bell Canyon, San Rafael Swell, Utah
Narrows in Bell Canyon

Bell Wash: 38.6063140°, -110.8170330° (38°36.37884′, -110°49.02198′ / 38°36’22.7304″, -110°49’01.3188″) (5,321ft.) (6.97)

Leave Road: 38.6059690°, -110.8171550° (38°36.35814′, -110°49.02930′ / 38°36’21.4884″, -110°49’01.7580″) (5,322ft.) (7.11)

1st Dryfall: 38.5995430°, -110.8152590° (38°35.97258′, -110°48.91554′ / 38°35’58.3548″, -110°48’54.9324″) (5,256ft.) (7.72)

A rock formation over Bell Canyon, San Rafael Swell, Utah
A rock formation over Bell Canyon

End Narrows: 38.5886320°, -110.8081720° (38°35.31792′, -110°48.49032′ / 38°35’19.0752″, -110°48’29.4192″) (5,068ft.) (9.30)

Reurn to Little Wildhorse Canyon Junction: 38.5888910°, -110.8065650° (38°35.33346′, -110°48.39390′ / 38°35’20.0076″, -110°48’23.6340″) (5,051ft.) (9.44)

End: 38.5830640°, -110.8029000° (38°34.98384′, -110°48.17400′ / 38°34’59.0304″, -110°48’10.4400″) (4,964ft.) (10.04)

Views back up Bell Canyon toward the narrows, San Rafael Swell, Utah
Views back up Bell Canyon toward the narrows

The gpx file for Little Wildhorse Canyon/Bell Canyon Loop can be downloaded – please note that this and the GPS Coordinates are for reference only and should not be used as a sole resource when hiking this trail.

Download GPX File size: 145.7 KB Downloaded 25 times

(Note: I do my best to ensure that all downloads, the webpage, etc. are virus-free and accurate; however, I cannot be held responsible for any damage that might result, including but not limited to loss of data, damages to hardware, harm to users, from use of files, information, etc. from this website.  Thanks!)

Hiking back down Little Wildhorse Canyon toward the trailhead, San Rafael Swell, Utah
Hiking back down Little Wildhorse Canyon toward the trailhead

Getting to Little Wildhorse Canyon Trailhead

From I-70, take Exit 149 west of Green River to UT-24.  Head south on UT-24.  After 24.1 miles, turn right onto Temple Mountain Road (signed for Goblin Valley State Park).  About 5.2 miles later, turn left to continue on the paved road, following the sign for Goblin Valley State Park (there will probably be a sign near here welcoming you to Goblin Valley State Park at some point in the future – land shifts after my visit made this part of the road in the state park).  Drive 6.1 miles and turn right onto Wild Horse Road for 5.4 miles (note that many blogs will tell you this is an unpaved road; as of November 2021, the road was freshly paved).  Just after crossing the wash, turn right into the parking area for Little Wildhorse Canyon.

Map of the Little Wildhorse Canyon & Bell Canyon Loop at the trailhead.  San Rafael Swell, Utah
Map of the Little Wildhorse Canyon & Bell Canyon Loop at the trailhead

From Hanksville, UT, drive north on UT-24.  After 19.6 miles, turn left onto Temple Mountain Road (there should be a sign for Goblin Valley State Park, but it may only show the other direction… there is a fair-sized gravel parking area at this junction).  About 5.2 miles later, turn left to continue on the paved road, following the sign for Goblin Valley State Park (there will probably be a sign near here welcoming you to Goblin Valley State Park at some point in the future – land shifts after my visit made this part of the road in the state park).  Drive 6.1 miles and turn right onto Wild Horse Road for 5.4 miles (note that many blogs will tell you this is an unpaved road; as of November 2021, the road was freshly paved).  Just after crossing the wash, turn right into the parking area for Little Wildhorse Canyon.

Visual trail map and elevation profile for the Little Wildhorse Canyon & Bell Canyon Loop.  Note that there aren't quite such huge climbs; my GPS got a little confused in the tight spaces (read: low satellite signal) of the canyons.  San Rafael Swell, Utah
Visual trail map and elevation profile for the Little Wildhorse Canyon & Bell Canyon Loop. Note that there aren’t quite such huge climbs; my GPS got a little confused in the tight spaces (read: low satellite signal) of the canyons.

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2 thoughts on “Bell Canyon & Finishing the Little Wildhorse Canyon Loop

  1. Pingback: Little Wildhorse Canyon – A Fun Slot! – Anne's Travels

  2. Pingback: Sneak Peek: A Trip to Utah’s Arches & Canyons! – Anne's Travels

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